Coastal town home to a landmark event in World War Two

The text on the memorial reads: "To commemorate the safe return to these shore of 228,226 men of the British Expeditionary Force, together with 120,000 French and Belgians from the beaches of Dunkerque by an armada of naval and civilian vessels of all types and sizes during "Operation Dynamo" - 26 May to 4 June 1940".

The memorial in questions is situated next to the Channel Dash Memorial and the Maritime Museum in Ramsgate, the English coastal town from where many of the “little ships” set sail on their mercy mission.

Scores of visitors flock to this area of Kent to celebrate its air, sea and land inheritance. In fact, this part of Kent’s coast has a rich maritime history to entice people of all ages, including from this side of the English Channel.

In the beginning, Ramsgate itself was just a collection of fishermen's cottages clustered around a harbour. But by the end of the 17th century a burgeoning shipping trade saw the port growing in importance.

In 1820 King George IV set off from Ramsgate with the Royal Squadron en route to Hanover. He was so impressed by the hospitality he received at the Kent port that he decreed it be declared a Royal Harbour, a status that's still unique in mainland Britain.

Despite considerable bomb damage in both world wars, Ramsgate still played a heroic part in 1940 in sending some of the ‘little ships' to Dunkirk. The town then welcomed thousands of soldiers, safely brought back from France.

If you’re looking to discover more about this landmark event in WW2 a great base from which to do so is the Royal Harbour, a delightfully quirky Georgian hotel. From its wonderful position perched on a hill above this vibrant town, the hotel, itself rich in history, directly overlooks the small marina/port, Britain’s only Royal Harbour.

When owner James Thomas, formerly of Claridge’s, the famous London hotel, took it over in 1999, it had just six rooms and two bathrooms. It’s much bigger now and also boasts a lovely restaurant, seating up to 45 and appropriately called “Empire” serving excellent British food, much of it sourced locally. The nicely balanced menu features a range of meat, fish and veggie dishes and includes lamb, ox cheek. Open for lunch and dinner the fact that 80 per cent of diners at weekend are non-guests is indicative of its wide appeal (as are the number of bookings it already has for Christmas Day!).

To reinforce the historical theme, the restaurant walls are adorned with front covers of “Empire”, the old BBC magazine which the owner, being passionate about British history, used to collect.With a large portrait of the Queen in the hotel lounge, it all fits in neatly with the patriotic feel of the surroundings.

Its warm red walls, original mixed wooden tables and chairs and history books on bookcases all combine to make this restaurant elegant and stylish, yet comfortable and informal.

The food served at Empire is also very good, all expertly overseen by Craig Mather, formerly a catering lecturer at a local college, and Nick Cobley. Little wonder that it’s been called a “hidden gem” and a leading contender in the 2018 Kent Food and Drink Awards.

James and his enthusiastic young team have also introduced some nice, personal touches, including an honesty bar and a great collection vinyl LPs that guests can play on a record deck in the comfy lounge. There’s also a disabled-access guest room on the ground floor. The hotel is a multiple award winner, was awarded a 5-star review by “An Inspector Calls” in the Daily Mail and is often “No.1 in Trip Advisor’s Popularity Index for Ramsgate.” It all makes for a very satisfying and relaxing stay.

The hotel is made up of adjoining Georgian Grade 2 listed townhouses that date back to 1799. They occupy the prime position in Ramsgate's best known historic garden crescent.

From the hotel you can marvel at the beautiful panorama of Ramsgate which has very much reinvented itself in recent years. The vista (you can see the French coast on a clear day) includes, of course, the Royal Harbour.

One great “must see” local visitor attraction just up the road in Margate is Dreamland, considered to be the oldest-surviving amusement park in Great Britain.

The site of Dreamland is also steeped in history, dating back to the early 1860s, and has undergone a major facelift with one of the most significant additions being a 15,000-capacity music venue. 

With the all-important summer season almost upon us, the park also now boasts nine new rides with something for both families and thrill seekers alike.

Visitors to this delightful “retro-style” park can enjoy new, re-imagined versions of firm favourites from the past, delight in carefully restored vintage rides and experience new, purpose-built thrill and coaster rides.

Millions of euros have been invested in relaunching the iconic 16-acre park and, following the relaunch in 2017, Dreamland set a target of a million visitors per year.

Dreamland was voted Runner-Up for Best Family Theme Park at the 2017 Family Traveller Awards and is less than 90 minutes from London.

Steve Gotkine, its Chief Operating Officer, says the “incredibly exciting plans mean a summer of thrills at Dreamland for all the family.”

Britons are flocking back to places like Thanet as part of the continuing boom in “staycations”. The challenge now is to sell the merits of the area to overseas visitors who may remain unaware of its undoubted charms.

For people travelling from Belgium, this bit of Kent, known as “the Garden of England”, is easily the most accessible part of the UK and makes for a terrific short break destination.

Travelling with Eurotunnel (le shuttle) from Calais to Folkestone takes just 35 minutes. It is regarded as the most convenient and cost-effective way to transport passengers (and freight) between the UK and continental Europe, including from Brussels and Belgium.There’s a whole range of tickets and fares and, this month, the first direct high-speed passenger rail services between London and Amsterdam, via the Channel Tunnel, were launched.

From Calais to Folkestone, there are up to four shuttles per hour and then direct motorway access to Ramsgate and Margate.

Ramsgate was Charles Dickens’ favourite holiday home and it’s easy to see why.

Back in the summer of 1940 the cry went out for any small ships between 30' and 100' in length to assist in rescuing stranded Allied troops.  

Between 27 May and 4 June 1940 Operation Dynamo, also known as the Miracle of Dunkirk, rescued thousands of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk.

This important point in British history, celebrating its 78th anniversary this June, is one timely reason to pay a visit to the area but, in truth, this lovely part of the UK is great to visit at any time of the year.

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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